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Remembering and Recounting

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, Memoir on November 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm

“Life is not what one lives, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”

~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Living to Tell the Tale

As I organize multiple pieces of Rosslyn’s renovation, our littoral Adirondack existence, and my still-young marriage into some sort of coherent storyline I wrestle consciously with occasional incongruities between my story and my life.

The narrative landscape is vast. Too vast, it often seems, to fit into a tidy memoir beginning with the crisp crack of a book spine opening for the first time, and the contented-sigh closure compelling stories demand.

Day after day, week after week I reread and rewrite, sort and distill and sort again, hunting for the essential story lurking amidst a mosaic of daily munge entries; four year’s worth of to-do lists; over fifteen thousand photographs; boxes of technical drawings and hasty sketches; hours of dictation; recorded meetings; and emails. Properly assembled, these miscellaneous artifacts form a multidimensional map of what took place between the spring of 2006 and the summer of 2012, but they fail to tell the story, they fail to recount the adventure lived.

19/03/2009 La Ministra de Cultuta de Colombia ...

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Image via Wikipedia)

In fact, I am startled to discover that these precise, unambiguous reference points frequently contradict my recollection. Dramatic events indelibly etched into my brain at the time have already blurred despite the brief lapse of time.

I curse my mischievous mind and then accept that 100% accuracy will inevitably elude me. My mind’s imperfect cataloging at once humbles and liberates me. Though an imperfect historian, I am a chronicler and curator of stories, not facts.

Even when my data is unequivocal, I inevitably distort history, omitting and abbreviating and emphasizing, distilling the vast landscape of data into vignettes. These accrete gradually, revealing the narrative design of my story.

I am unlike my father and my brother who posses iron vaulted minds where information is deposited, preserved and safeguarded for later use. When the time comes to retrieve the information, they withdraw it from their vaults unaltered, uncontaminated, reliable, accurate.

I believe that there are different kinds of accuracy. I am a storyteller, not an historian, and though I strive for verisimilitude, some truths are more effectively preserved and conveyed through stories than history or vaults.

Some days I toil like an archeologist amidst a midden heap of artifacts, rewinding time’s mysteries, deciphering the prior summer’s garden vegetables from this season’s rich, dark compost.

Other days I seduce and charm and coerce the artifacts to share longer forgotten truths. I plant French radishes and bush beans in the compost-enriched garden and several unlikely seedlings emerge among the radish and bean sprouts. I skip them while weeding, and soon enough I am rewarded with yellow cherry tomatoes, wart covered gourds and a curly garlic scape! Although I’ve grown yellow cherry tomatoes in the past, I’ve never grown gourds or garlic.

I remember that we were given several multicolored gourds to decorate my bride’s annual Halloween birthday party last year. But they were smooth skinned. Perhaps they were discarded in the compost, and a recessive wart gene found its way into the germination process resulting in the exotic adaptation growing amidst the fattening radishes.

And the garlic? We eat plenty from Full and By Farm, our local CSA, but to date I have never planted garlic. I vaguely remember several bulbs that we left out while traveling last winter. When we returned home, the kitchen was ripe with the pungent odor of rotten garlic. The bulbs were discolored, sitting in a pool of their own brown fluid. Several garlic cloves had begun to germinate, pale green shoots emerging from the cloves and arching upward.

I imagine planting them in a terra-cotta pot and placing it on a windowsill in my study. Each morning I inspect their progress. One shoot yellows and grows limp, then wrinkles across the moist soil. The other three grow taller quickly, changing from pale to dark green. Soon they will twist into elegant scapes which I can cut just above the soil level. I will chop them up and sauté them with olive oil, salt and pepper. I will serve them to my bride as a dinner side with mashed potatoes and swordfish, and she’ll smile ear-to-ear, marveling that something so succulent could have grown by accident.

According to Garcia Marquez life is not only the experiences, the moments lived. Life is also the rendering of those experiences into stories, the recollecting, the filtering, the imagining, the sharing. To fully live we must share our stories. That’s an interesting notion in a world that more often favors accuracy, facts, history.

Perhaps even with history we become overconfident that the facts are irrefutable. Only in recent decades have scholars we begun to look critically at history’s biases, often tainted by ideology, objectives or favoring the victors to the vanquished.

Absent an omnipresent video camera that documents my life as I bump along, capturing every minute detail precisely, permanently, Garcia Marquez’s perspective offers reassuring guidance. Though I frequently daydream about a collaborative memoir comprised of the recollections of everyone who participated in the rebirth of Rosslyn, my story is an eclectic nexus of personal experiences, filtered, aggregated and cobbled into narrative cohesion by me.

I write these affirmative lines now, and yet I struggle with it each time my bride asks if she can participate more actively in the revising and editing. Yes, I tell her; when I am done. Which is not to say that I have neglected her input. I have sought it again and again. But her story is different from my own, as are the still unwritten memoirs of many creative and hardworking people who invested their time and energy into renovating our home. I hope to showcase many of their impressions and memories on the Rosslyn Redux blog. And I am optimistic that my memoir will serve as an invitation to dig into their memories and to recount their own versions of Rosslyn Redux.

Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for your guidance.

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Hickory Hill and Homeport

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, History & Heritage on October 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm
Hickory Hill in Essex, New York circa 1907 (photo by B. Benton Barker)

Hickory Hill in Essex, New York circa 1907 (photo by B. Benton Barker)

Rosslyn artifacts continue to emerge, and sometimes they’re not even even Rosslyn artifacts at all but Ross family artifacts. For example, I just discovered this antique postcard of the Ross Mansion (aka Hickory Hill) which was built in the early 1820s by the parents of W.D. Ross, the original owner of Rosslyn. Here’s the description provided by friend and Essex neighbor, Catherine DeWolff:

Mrs. Ross (detail from 1907 photograph of Hickory Hill above)

Mrs. Ross (detail from Hickory Hill photograph above)

Real photo postcard of the Ross Mansion in Essex, New York, on beautiful Lake Champlain – copyright 1907 by B. Benton Barker of Burlington, Vermont – faded card but details are still discernible such as Mrs. Ross sitting in her window (it is well known in the town history that that window was her favorite sitting spot and some say she still can be seen sitting there) – corners are lightly bumped and rubbed with a minor double crease at the bottom right corner – divided back is unused – rare barker card is comes in a rigid plastic display holder. (Catherine DeWolff)

Mrs. Ross’s lingering spirit was news to me. Looks like time for a little investigative work! It would be good indeed to collect a firsthand account from one who’s witnessed Mrs. Ross occupying her favorite window seat a century and change after this photograph was taken.

This past summer I was fortunate to meet Tilly Close for a tour of Hickory Hill which was built by her great grandfather, Henry Howard Ross. H.H. Ross (as local historians usually remember him) was William Daniel Ross’s brother. W.D. Ross (clearly historians and archivists had a vested interest in typographical efficiency) built Rosslyn in 1822, at the same time that his brother was building Hickory Hill. Although Mrs. Close shared plenty of anecdotes about Hickory Hill, there was no mention of ghosts. From what I can ascertain, both Daniel Ross and his bride Elizabeth Gilliland Ross Evertson died at Hickory Hill, but the latter passed away on August 3, 1847, well shy of B. Benton Barker’s  1907 photograph. Perhaps Mrs. Close can shed some light on the window sitting phantom. Her crisp sense of humor and encyclopedic recollection (including extensive genealogical research) have proven to be the single best guide in sorting out Ross family history. When I asked her to verify that Hickory Hill’s builder, H.H. Ross, had been her great grandfather she responded promptly as follows:

The family was lacking in imagination when naming their children. There were three Henry Howard Ross men, creating much confusion. H.H. Ross who built Hickory Hill was the son of Daniel Ross (who was married to Gilliland’s daughter Elizabeth). Henry’s brother, William D. Ross… built your home. His son, H.H. Ross was born 10/23/1827 – 6/15/1908. He married Mary Julia Nichols. Hickory Hill Henry Ross had 8 children. His son James Blanchard Ross who built the Camalier’s house, had a son named H.H. Ross, who married Anna Noble, and died early 1857-1882. (Tilly Close)

In a subsequent communication Mrs. Close explained further:

My Great Grandparents, Henry and Susannah had 8 biological children, plus one adopted girl, whose mother was Susannah’s sister, and had died. One of their sons is named William Daniel Ross II, born 10/5/1830 and died as a soldier in the Civil War, in Washington, DC 10/25/1861. I have his portrait by Horace Bundy. Rosslyn, which I think was called Hyde Gate at one point,  was built by my Gr. Grandfather’s brother, W.D. Ross… (Tilly Close)

An abundance of H.H. Rosses, a pair or W.D. Rosses and a fetching ghost by the name of Mrs. Ross. All the ingredients for a thriller!

And what of Rosslyn’s spiritual dimension? My bride claims psychic faculties and denies the presence of ghosts in our home. But it strikes me as unlikely that almost two centuries would fail to produce a ghost or two.

During Rosslyn’s renovation, several contractors mentioned signs of a ghost on the third floor. I’ll ask after any such recollections. For my part, I can not confirm any lingering spirits, but maybe the prolonged renovation process sent them scampering for more congenial circumstances. The endless whine of saws and the thwump-thwump of hammers may have driven Rosslyn’s ghosts up to Hickory Hill! But I’ll continue to poke around, and I promise to share any spooky discoveries.

A recent eBay find took me even further afield than Hickory Hill. In fact, it’s not really a Rosslyn artifact at all. I include it here because it pertains to another house which indirectly influence my compunction to purchase and renovate Rosslyn. Although my earliest childhood memories derive from The Farm, I spent far longer living in a subsequent home in Wadhams, New York.

Homeport in Wadhams, New York

Homeport in Wadhams, New York

By way of an eBay seller in Bonita Springs, Florida I was able to acquire a history of Wadhams entitled In the Beginning… Wadhams 1820-1970 which was compiled and published by Ethel L. Kozma. Nestled amid Wadhams history, genealogy and photographs, this image of the home where I lived during my elementary school years immediately triggered a flood of memories. Although I was too young to actually participate, my parents renovated this “once stately mansion” (cribbed from the original real estate listing) despite many decades of neglect and dilapidation. The left side of the porch in the image above had long since been removed, but the elegant home enchanted my parents. They undertook a renovation very nearly as ambitious as our own. And I grew up in the midst of it, obviously distorting my understanding of a “fixer upper” and my notion of a prudent investment.

Although I don’t recall any ghosts haunting our home in Wadhams, I did have an imaginary friend (two actually, if you count my imaginary friend’s imaginary friend) with whom I adventured and conspired. Those were enchanted years that might have proven even more so if I’d known the house’s history:

“Homeport” was the summer home of the late Albion V. Wadhams, a younger son of William Luman Wadhams, and a grandson of the General. Albion was graduated from U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md. 1868. His cruise took him to China, an encounter with the Koreans; and later an instructor at the Naval Academy. He retired June 30, 1907 with the rank of Commodore after 43 years service. Mr. and Mrs. A.V. Wadhams had come to “Homeport” about 1896, which become the home of Mrs. Frances T. Ladd in Sept. 1926. This home was originally built by Levi H. Cross as indicated on the 1876 map. (In the Beginning… Wadhams 1820-1970)

I do vaguely recall that our home had belonged to one of the founding families of the town, but the abstraction of that was too much for my jittery mind. But the Navy?!?! Commodore Albion Wadhams… Who knew history held such invitations to daydream?

Gestation

In Artifacts, Daily Munge on September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm
Rainer Maria Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke (Image via Wikipedia)

In Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “everything is gestation, then bringing forth”. My daily munge, what others might refer to as daily writing practice or a journal, is my place and process for gestation. It’s a place where I scribble and doodle and scrawl.

Sometimes it’s five hours’ worth of writing; sometimes it’s five minutes.

Anything is fair game for the daily munge, any quotidian artifact that even fleetingly piques my interest. There’s no referee, no editor, no judgment. Not at first.

Like a sculptor’s studio where I can explore an idea that may or may not evolve into a finished work, the daily munge let’s me experiment and carve away and mash the rejects only to pick them up again later to try again. Sometimes a poem or a story or an essay is born; more often I create, curate and then abandon my words.

Very little ever comes out of the daily munge in the short term, and yet most of my completed storytelling and writing had its inception there. Gestation is critical. As is patience and perseverance. I’ve learned these lessons many times, and yet I’m forced to relearn them each time I initiate and complete a new creative project.

Although renovating Rosslyn involved more woodwork and plaster and masonry and paint than the average poem or story, it too was gestation. It too demanded patience and perseverance, more sometimes than my bride and I could muster. Or so it seemed, until at last we were able to bring forth a home, a revitalized historic artifact, a font of memories and stories and lives.

A time capsule, the daily munge preserved the highs and lows of three, almost four years spent renovating Rosslyn. A mosaic of artifacts and memories. A sometimes euphoric, sometimes angry and frequently confused or frustrated tangle of interconnected narratives. This is the material I’ve been exploring and sculpting into Rosslyn Redux. This is the clunky, unedited avalanche of dreams and disappointments and triumphs and compromises that sometimes sweeps me up and plunges me—gasping for air, somersaulting blindly—downward.

Today has been one of those days. I’m trying to remind myself, “everything is gestation, then bringing forth”. I am so damned ready for the bringing forth! Patience. Perseverance. Thank you.

Hyde Gate For Sale or Rent

In Artifacts, History & Heritage, Lake Champlain, What's Rosslyn? on June 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm
For Sale: Hyde Gate, aka Rosslyn, in Essex, New York

For Sale: Hyde Gate (aka Rosslyn), in Essex, New York, April 1910.

Rosslyn artifacts pop up all over the place! And they’re not always Rosslyn artifacts; sometimes they’re Hyde Gate artifacts or Sherwood Inn artifacts… Honestly one of the most enjoyable aspects of owning and renovating our home is stumbling across interesting relics of its almost 200 year history.

I originally came across the advertisement above on eBay. The auction item was a full page ripped from the April 1910 edition of Country Life in America. How could I resist? One more quirky artifact for the digital library!

Turns out it wasn’t the only time that Hyde Gate (aka Rosslyn) was advertised for sale or rent in the early twentieth century. A March 1910 advertisement is available on Google Books. A handy tool for finding print book content, Google Books offers increased functionality for out-of-copyright content such as this old magazine. For free you can “clip” the image (at right) to use elsewhere, and you can even clip the text content from the page. The following is quoted from the ad:

For Sale: Hyde Gate, aka Rosslyn, in Essex, New York, March 1910

For Sale: Hyde Gate (aka Rosslyn) in Essex, New York, March 1910.

FOR SALE “HYDE GATE,” Essex, N.Y. FOR RENT

The country residence of Caleb James Coatsworth Esq. is just at the outskirts of Essex Village on Lake Champlain, New York. The house faces the lake, and the grounds run right down to the lake with bath houses and a large private dock. The house is between eighty five and a hundred years old. Is built of brick. It is very beautifully furnished with the real antique Colonial furniture and although lighted throughout with electricity there is not on modem electrical fixture on the first floor.

In the hall there is an old lantern, and in all the rooms old candelabra hanging from the ceilings; there are also lamps on the centre table lighted by electricity. The house is a beautiful example of the Colonial period. It contains ten bed rooms and two bath rooms on the second floor, and three bed rooms on the third floor, also two lavatories on first floor. One can leave “Hyde Gate” in an automobile after breakfast and lunch at Lake Placid, or leave “Hyde Gate” in the morning and dine at Bretton Woods in the White Mountains, or dine at Montreal, Canada. Lake Placid is fifty miles from “Hyde Gate” by road; Bretton Woods one hundred and eighteen miles; and the Windsor Hotel, Montreal, Canada is just one hundred miles; all the roads are very good. It Is a great central starting point for automobiling. The owner of “Hyde Gate” has made all of these trips. You can leave the dock at “Hyde Gate” in a launch and go to Westport, NY, or Vergennes, Vermont (the oldest city in Vermont) through the beautiful Otter Creek or Burlington, Vermont in less than an hour, or “Bluff Point” in two hours where the Lake Champlain Hotel is located, which is considered the best hotel In the Adirondacks.

The grounds contain between five and six acres, beautifully laid out, and there is a great abundance of flowers, a large kitchen garden, and quite a number of fruit trees and currant bushes, etc.

A stable with room for five horses, carriage room for five or six carriages, large harness room with glass case for harness, and good comfortable quarters for coachman. There is a large carriage shed outside of table where extra carriages can be stored, also suitable for two automobiles, several chicken houses, and a pigeon house. There is a large new ice house with a cold storage house built in connection with it.

“Hyde Gate” is just half way on Lake Champlain, and one can make the trip to New York in a motor boat in two days running spending the night at Albany, or you can run to Montreal with a motor boat in two days.

Enquire CALEB JAMES COATSWORTH 110 South Penn Ave Atlantic City NJ (via Country Life in America, March 1910, P. 495)

A couple of years later a similar advertisement ran in the April 1912 issue of Country Life in America. And it would seem that Caleb James Coatsworth was learning a thing or two about advertising with each return to ink. The text length and detail is generally the same throughout, but a bit of brevity slips into the equation, and the photographs improve significantly. Perhaps there are later advertisements that I’ve missed?

Let’s take a look at the copy for Coatsworth’s 1912 Hyde Gate advertisement:

For Sale: Hyde Gate, aka Rosslyn, in Essex, New York, March 1912.

For Sale: Hyde Gate (aka Rosslyn) in Essex, New York, March 1912.

For Sale HYDE GATE ESSEX NY For Rent

“Hyde Gate” is just at the outskirts of Essex Village on Lake Champlain, N.Y. It is the country residence of Caleb James Coatsworth. The house faces the lake, and the ground runs down to the lake. There are bath houses and a large private dock. The house is between 85 and 100 years old. It is a beautiful example of the Colonial period; made of brick. It is very beautifully furnished with antique colonial furniture. It contains ten bed rooms and two bath rooms on the second floor and three bed rooms on the third floor. Also two laboratories on the first floor.

The grounds contain between 5 and 6 acres beautifully laid out. There is a great abundance of flowers. A large kitchen garden and a number of fruit trees and currant bushes, etc. A stable with room for five horses, accommodations for 5 or 6 carriages, large harness room and good comfortable quarters for coachman. Another carriage shed affords accommodations for extra carriages and two automobiles. There are other outhouses. Further particulars from

CALEB JAMES COATSWORTH

Hyde Gate Eases NY (via Country Life in America, April 1912, P. 3)

Two laboratories on the first floor? Fantastic! It’s handy having multiple versions of this ad to sort out the unlikely presence of a pair of labs in a summer residence… Two lavatories, now that makes a little bit more sense. Imagine the ten year old son who’s spent all spring looking forward to summer vacation on Lake Champlain. His father has promised that their summer rental includes two laboratories. Oh, the experiments that have occupied the boy’s daydreams in the final stretch of the school year. A homemade volcano, frog dissection,… the options are endless. And then to arrive after an exhausting journey along bumpy roads in the days long before air conditioning. And the lad races inside to search for the laboratories, to find the answer to his fantasies only to discover that it was an error. Two lavatories? What sort of evil joke is that?

Hickory Hill and Rosslyn

In Artifacts, Daily Munge, Historic Essex, History & Heritage, What's the story?, Where's Rosslyn? on May 19, 2011 at 7:00 am
The Ross Mansion, Essex, NY

The Ross Mansion, Essex, NY

I recently happened on this antique postcard of the Ross Mansion (aka Hickory Hill) which was built by the parents of W.D. Ross, the original owner of Rosslyn in the early 1820s. It still presides handsomely at the intersection of Elm Street and Church Street. I’m still sorting out the Ross family tree, intricately woven into the history of Essex, New York, and I’ll do my best to paint a clear picture as it emerges. For now, a couple of interesting references include:

History of the Town of Essex

Henry H. Ross (Wikipedia)

Honorable Henry H. Ross (Lancet Portrait Gallery)

Ross, Henry Howard (Biographical Directory of the Unites States Congress)

The interesting connection between Rosslyn and Hickory Hill is illuminated in Living Places: Essex Village Historic District.

“Hickory Hill” on Elm Street, and “Rosslyn” on the Lake Shore Road represent the residences of the wealthy merchants and lawyers who dominated Essex in the early days of its prosperity. Two-and-a-half-story brick structures whose design combines Georgian and Federal elements, both “Hickory Hill” and “Rosslyn” were built before 1830. The building of “Hickory Hill” (1822) built by Henry Harmon Ross for his bride, was taken from a five-bay design in Salem, New York. It displays great grace and lightness in its Palladian window, Neo-classic portico, and elegant cornices. Its setting in its own spacious grounds on the ridge which overlooks the village and the lake adds much to its beauty. “Rosslyn”, the William D. Ross house, originally constructed as a three-bay side hall dwelling, was expanded (1835-40) into five bays. Presently restored to its appearance in 1840, it commands a superb view of the lake and the Green Mountains in Vermont.

Another genealogical reference appears in Ancestry.com:

DANIEL ROSS: born February 23, 1764, Duchess County, NY; son of Daniel Ross (c 1740- c July 22, 1795) and Jerusa Howard; married Elizabeth Gilliland June 1784; one of the original settlers of Essex, NY on lands given to his wife by her father William Gilliland; had five children- Elizabeth, William Daniel, Henry Howard, Edward D., and Sara Jane; divorced Elizabeth c July 1815; Captain of Militia, Justice of the Peace, merchant, first Essex County Judge, and most prominent citizen; died at the home of his son Henry, Hickory Hill, Essex, NY March 10, 1831 at 67.

ELIZABETH GILLILAND ROSS EVERTSON: born 1764 in New York City; first child of William Gilliland (c1734-1796) and Elizabeth Phagan (c1740-1772); married Daniel Ross June 1785; had five children noted above; divorced c July 1815; married John J. Evertson by April 1, 1823; Evertson died by 1829; after Daniel’s death in 1831, she returned to her son Henry’s home, Hickory Hill, Essex, NY and died there August 3, 1847 at 83.

I will be adding Ross family references that I only have in print over the coming months. For now, here is an interesting if somewhat garbled snapshot of William Daniel Ross from Caroline Halstead Barton Royce as recorded in Bessboro: a history of Westport, Essex Co., N.Y. (Note: corrections are mine and possibly erroneous.)

William Daniel Ross dealt in lumber, iron and ship-building in Essex ; his wife was a sister of John Gould, Aid on Gen. Wright’s stafi; and his brother, Henry H. Boss, (afterward Gen. Ross,) was adjutant of the 87th at the battle of Plattsburgh.

If you can point me toward accurate history, genealogy, etc. for the Ross family of Essex, New York, please contact me. I would be much indebted to you. Thank you in advance.

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